When Congress enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act, which went into effect on January 1, 2009, it indicated that one of its purposes was to “convey that the question of whether an individual’s impairment is a disability under the ADA should not demand extensive analysis.”
I vaguely recall some of the floor discussion in anticipation of the passage of the ADAAA:
“I yield to the Senator.”
“Thank you, Senator. With all this discussion about amending the Americans with Disabilities Act to more broadly define the definition of disability, I wonder aloud whether we need to explicitly include playing golf and — err — making whoopie in that list of major life activities that includes with sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, and bending. I’m just sayin is all…”
“Yeah, probably not necessary. I yield the floor…”
Well, guess what?
In this federal appellate decision issued late last month, that’s basically what the court said.
A plaintiff sued his former employer alleging a violation of the ADA. The employer claimed that the plaintiff’s back injury did not constitute a disability. Except, the plaintiff’s physician submitted an affidavit, which stated that the the back issues impacted the plaintiff’s ability to walk, bend, sleep, and lift more than ten pounds.
Noting that each of these activities is specifically enumerated in the list of ADA major life activities, the court had little trouble concluding that the plaintiff was, indeed, disabled.
But, then, there was that sex and golf thing. Although not specifically listed as major life activities, they’re kind’ve a big deal:
“Second, although Mr. Mazzeo testified at his deposition that his back problems only affected his ability to play golf and have sex, the district court read that testimony too broadly. The questions that were posed to Mr. Mazzeo did not contain a specific time frame, making it unclear whether his answers referred to how he felt before his operation in March of 2009, or after his operation…We therefore do not think that Mr. Mazzeo’s deposition testimony warranted summary judgment in favor of CRI.”
The implication here is that if the plaintiff’s pre-operation back trouble substantially limited his ability to [insert one of many golf double entrendres here], then he is disabled.
So, learn from this case. No, I’m not saying [insert one of many golf double entrendres here]. What I am saying; however, is that if an employee comes to you requesting an accommodation for a purported disability, don’t expend a lot of brain cells contemplating whether the employee is disabled.
Instead, focus your energy on discussing with the employee what reasonable accommodation(s) will allow that employee to perform the essential functions of the job.
P.S. – If you’re on LinkedIn, consider joining the discussion of news, trends and insights in employment law, HR, and workplace, by becoming a member of The Employer Handbook LinkedIn Group. It’s practically a major life activity.*
*Not really. Actually, not at all.